It’s Not Me, It’s You

I once admitted to my aunt that I felt like I was a misanthrope.

“I just really can’t with people sometimes” I told her, referring to no one in particular at that moment. But it was a feeling I have a lot.

Crying in line at the bakery because the cashier has asked me three times to repeat myself because she can’t understand my accent. Or cursing out the well-meaning ticket collector attempting to explain why the ticket I bought is the wrong one and how I can do better next time I buy it (a cursing which he reminded me was unnecessary since he wasn’t going to fine me).

These feelings, I realize now, come from my own insecurity, an insecurity that exists in all countries and at all times but which has definitely increased since being in Germany. Because in Germany, I get a lot more attention from strangers and the things that I know to be true about how the world works based on my childhood in the States are not the truths in Germany. Sometimes, even after nine years, I am amazed by how different things are here. And by things I mean people. Attitudes. Habits.

I still get annoyed at the bum rush to the cashier who’s opened a new checkout line. I still fucking hate that people can get drunk to puking at the street fairs but I can’t vacuum on a Sunday morning. And I am still unable to handle condescension, which is what I view anyone trying to tell me I am doing something wrong until I realize that really, they’re being helpful and I am the one practicing condescension.

I will never forget the time my mom came home from work and said her boss told her she had to stop being so condescending, to which she replied, “I can’t be condescending because I don’t know what that word means.” This. This is exactly me.

But part of growing up and my attempting to be a great role model for my kid has required that I drop that habit. That I learn to smile and nod and thank people for their help. That I start to accept that in all communications two people are required and pay closer attention to that other person and his or her needs before I tell him or her to fuck right on off.

I forget this a lot but having a kid helps. I have had to learn that temper tantrums are not about me being a terrible, horrible “bloede” mama and not take those words personally. They are about Diva. About her disappointment at not getting another damned princess dress. About her being hungry or tired.

I will admit that I am a horrible communicator. I will admit that I don’t do it right all the time. But it has been a watershed moment to realize that often in these discussions that make me angry or draw me to tears are not entirely my fault and that cursing and crying doesn’t change things.

Whew, glad I got over that already. It’s exhausting to go through life thinking that all these unsmiling, unhappy people are that way because of you. It’s not me. It’s you.

#Dailydeutsch Eierfeier

This one I’m making up, which is a true feat given my inability to even make a German children’s book rhyme when I read it aloud. I may be getting better at German but my wit and alliteration are at its minimum in this language. I’m no Nein Quarterly.

But I’m especially proud of coming up with Eierfeier.

When the folks over at Uberlin blog asked on Twitter if one could translate Sausage Fest as Wurst Fest, I found myself struggling to find the right replacement. See, I tried hard once to get a German friend to understand the concept of a sausage fest using that translation and it went nowhere. This is the same friend I tried explaining a cock block to — a concept well understood but seemingly untranslatable. And the same with trying to translate a meat market as a Metzgerei or Fleischerei (for the record, it’s die Fleischbeschau). My friend had tried to give me a suitable German phrase to substitute it but nothing really had the same impact in that way that few sexually-connoted slang words do in German.

And since Germans don’t usually refer to their penises as their Wuerstchen (do English speakers actually refer to them as sausages?), I went through all sorts of possibilities in the whole five seconds it took to Tweet back with the most suitable replacement, including rehashing the meaning of the Gliederzug before arriving at Eierfeier — a balls party. Because for whatever reason, I’m finding that it’s only kids who talk about their penises. Grown men seem to prefer discussing their balls more, though why I will never know. Plus, it’s reminiscent a bit of the idea of balls-to-the-wall, which, let’s be honest, is often what ladies’ night and other assorted sausage fests often feel like.

Learning German: Sexist Gender Articles

In an inspired burst, I signed up for a seminar this weekend on German articles. Because there’s no better way to spend a sunny November Saturday than by trying to discern the centuries-old logic that categorized German words into masculine, feminine, and neutral.

It’s appropriate timing for the course, I suppose, seeing as Germany just added the option to check “intersex” on birth certificates, so gender’s all over the news. And after eight years here, I may very well soon need to validate my love for the country by testing my linguistic abilities. It was one of my goals for the year — to stop speaking toddler German and start speaking like a real, live Deutscher, and one of the reasons I sound like a two-year-old is because I say Das Tisch instead of Der Tisch (who knew a table could be masculine? I certainly didn’t).

Because I learned German in a roundabout way, I missed the first, very important vocabulary-building lessons and have acquired all my nouns haphazardly, so I was really hoping this weekend would be a great way to gain that knowledge back. You know, learn tricks like “when it ends in -e, it’s likely going to be die”, i.e., die Lampe. And I did learn that. The teacher was very nice and passed around photocopies from a Duden grammar book and we learned all the endings that have definite rules about gender.

And then he said, “But that’s only like 10 percent of German nouns. The rest you just have to try and figure out on your own. I suggest pasting notecards up around the house.”

Oh fuck that noise. Taping postcards up in my house? What am I, a teenager?

I’ll admit, I’m a horrible student. Most teachers are. I very nearly got up and walked out after that first 15 minute introduction. But I held my breath and made a mental note to oversleep for class on Sunday (I did and skipped five of the seminar’s eight hours, and getting a blessedly long night of rest).

Needless to say, I didn’t learn much, but I did gain some insight into German ways of thinking. Because, as the teacher explained, assigning gender to an object comes from the centuries-old conception of what’s masculine and what’s feminine. That’s why, he says, the sun is feminine in German. “Here in the north, we welcome the sun because it makes us warm. In Spain, though, where the sun can be deadly with its heat, it’s masculine.” Um, ok? So anything not cuddly or sweet is masculine?

By this logic, he explained, people refer to cats consistently in the feminine form. Back in the day, he said, cats were domestic and useful, just like women. That’s also why dogs are referred to in their masculine form: because they’re volatile and aggressive, just like men.

Right.

That’s why schnapps and whiskey and vodka and everything is masculine? But what about beer? Why is beer neutral? Because it’s neither deadly nor cuddly?

Fuck this language and its nonsense. Imma gonna keep talking like a toddler, slurring my way past the articles. Because it’s just too much to think, “Hmmm, would a 16th century sexist think this chair is sturdy like a woman or since it can hold a lot of weight more like a man,” every damn time I open my mouth.

#Dailydeutsch : Gliederzug

A couple months ago, a friend and I were addressing the issue of my lack of vocabulary for a person’s private parts — male and female — auf Deutsch. It was inspired by my improper use of the word scheiden and, as all conversations with me are wont to do, spiraled into vulgarity quite quickly.

I taught her that floral bedspreads are also known as cock blockers, which led to me cringing hardcore because I just hate that word. I always think of a rooster, which is possibly the most awful thing to be thinking about when that word’s being bantied around. So she taught me her cringe word, the one that I should know but never use: das Glied. Why the German word for cock is not masculine, I don’t know. Maybe because it also means a link or a chain? (On a side note: the translation for missing link is also missing penis, which puts that King Missile song into rotation in my head and Jesus H Christ, what if the missing link between chimps and humans is actually a penis? Grrrr… ADHD).

Anyway, of course that word got easily stuck into my head because my very first association with it was the English word glide and I kept repeating Gliede glide so there was absolutely no hope of ever forgetting it again, despite my friend’s desperate attempts to get me to shut the hell up.

Fast forward a few weeks to a ridiculous telephone conference I have to do about once a month with a client so that we can decide what, if anything, I can write about for her. And this time, there’s a dude on the telco with us whose English isn’t quite up to par so it’s being done all in German and with no context for me. I may be fluent in German but with zero context and no in-person contact, it is sometimes totally impossible for me to fill in the blanks or puzzle out words I don’t know. Dude is explaining something to me that I know absolutely nothing about and I’m about two steps behind when he throws this into the conversation: “Yeah, it was so big we had to hire out a Gliederzug from Hungary.”

I choked audibly. A Glied-er-zug? As in (in my head), a parade of penises? You had to hire out a parade of penises from Hungary because what was so big?

I did everything I could to maintain a modicum of professionalism as I asked what the hell a Gliederzug was because that image in my mind was just….ugh. Christopher Street Days, maybe? And the response was one of those uncomfortable silences where it was clear they expected me to know what they were talking about. Finally, dude e-mailed me a picture. It was a truck. A Gliederzug is an extra-long mode of transport.

Appropriate, seeing as the German word for sex is traffic (verkehr).

#dailydeutsch: Schmierpapier

One of my neighbors is a professional tennis player. And by professional I mean he’s a tennis pro at a local club, not that he actually plays on a circuit or anything.

You know all the cliches about tennis pros? He fits them to a tee. He gets tan from traveling to all the tennis events in Australia and Miami and then comes back to Germany and turns his skin orange with self-tanner to maintain the bronzed look. He thinks nylon running pants are the height of good fashion. He looks an awful lot like Ivan in “The Squid and the Whale,” actually, with the same hairstyle and everything.

And because he’s my upstairs neighbor and the walls/ceilings/floors here are pretty thin, I think I can safely say he sleeps with quite a few of his clients. Just like Ivan.

Now, normally I’m all about acceptance. Everyone makes his or her own life choices and who am I to judge, right? If you feel good in your skin, that’s all that matters. Except this dude has a really bad habit of being a super sleaze when he’s talking to me. This isn’t necessarily unusual for men to do, I guess because of either their inability to be gentlemen or my propensity for making vulgar jokes, but I have learned from far too many encounters with super sleazes to always make these jokes in safe company. You know, like with my female friends. Who speak English. Not with guys who could mistake my frequent use of the word fuck to be some sort of attempt at flirtation (which we all know I stink at). So I’d say it’s them, not me.

Super sleaze’s last try at coming on to me came right after his trip to the US. Like all Germans, he wanted to express his confusion at the Americans and their choices (me too, buddy, me too). And part of his confusion came from what, in his mind, was the typical American woman. Bottle-blonde, botoxed, big-busomed and always, always in pairs on the arms of wealthy gray hairs. His opinion of American women was that we are all super skinny but big breasted gold diggers. Um, ok? Maybe in South Beach? Or LA? But, um, maybe not? I raised one unwaxed eyebrow and suddenly, he pulls out this gem of a pick-up line:

“So what are you doing here, all alone in Germany, if you could be stepping out of a Lamborghini in Miami?”

Wait a minute, did you just compare me to a Playboy bunny who has no qualms about sleeping with an elderly Hugh Hefner if it means she’s set for life? Is this really what you think of me? He went on to explain in a smoky bar voice, wink wink, that he meant this as a compliment on my appearance.

What brand of low self-esteem does this dude think I have, if he expects that comparing me to a bimbo is the best way to get me into his apartment? Argh.

In the words of one of my other neighbors: a real schmierpapier, this schmuck. Though it really means something like a slimeball (based on my friend’s definition), I originally thought of the German propensity for curses involving caca and translated to mean a real piece of toilet paper. Fitting, I think, even if it’s not entirely accurate.

**Note to men in my vicinity: If you use bad pick-up lines, I’m going to call you out on them on this here blog. You’ve been warned.

Flexing Your English Fitness

I’ll admit it: I’m a gym rat. I started working out with regularity right after I left my husband on the recommendation of a friend who told me about the awesome day care service at a local gym. Before that, I’d been a yoga junkie, but with no one to look after the babe while my ass was up in the air saluting the sun, I converted to a fitness freak.

You wouldn’t necessarily know it to look at me, but thanks to a series of injuries that may have put me off running for good, I’m at the gym now nearly every single day. Of course, when the sun is shining, I’d much rather be running laps around the FC’s training grounds, waiting for the footballers to take their shirts off while dodging duck poop, but since that ain’t often in the cards for me anymore, I’m limited to getting my cardio kicks from classes with names like Body Combat and Body Attack! Because, you know, becoming healthy is similar to going to war. Plus, the class titles are English so they are like a million times more effective than if they were called Koerper Kampf or something to that end.

Add to the win-win title a load of flashing colored lights and instructors screaming Mo’ Mo’ Mo’ along with Usher and it feels a lot like being at a disco on the Ring on a Saturday night replete with bared shoulders and see-through pants but without the empty calories. And just like at the disco, at my gym, if you’re lucky, someone will ask you to get naked with him or her after class — one of the great perks of having a sauna at the gym and German unabashedness. But I digress.

Point is, these classes, fun though they may be, have been extremely difficult for me to get through in recent weeks. It’s not just the broken foot giving me a hard time, though the teacher does like to remind me every week that it’s okay to take it easy while coming off an injury. No, the thing doing me in at these classes is the music. First, Les Mills released their new soundtrack for the quarterly choreography and they included a new track by Flo Rida titled “Whistle.”

Now, Les Mills is not known for choosing awesome songs to pump iron to (Nickelback anyone?), but I like their classes and the music sure beats the death metal playing at a lot of Cross Fit gyms. Still, they decided this go-round that it’s a-ok to have a room full of sweaty, scandily-clad people listen to a dude giving instructions on how to blow his whistle.

Les Mills comes out of New Zealand and last time I checked, Kiwis spoke English, so I know these choreographers know exactly what’s going on in that song. The problem is that so far, not a single one of the instructors at my gym seem to have gotten that message. So each week, some very well-chiseled triathlete will get up on stage in front of dozens of people and do some stomach crunches while innocently singing along with Flo Rida, “you just put your lips together / and you come real close / can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby.” It’s a bit ridiculous when it’s the twenty-something blonde woman singing, but I lose it when it’s the forty-something gay guy telling people to blow his whistle. I feel sorry for him, I really do, but I’m too busy laughing at the dude’s naivete to show him any pity.

I mean, it’s not like he’s intentionally trying to come on to his students, not like these amazing aerobics instructors out of Japan, who have found the best thing to happen to aerobics since Jazzercise, Zuiikin’ English:

Ever since The Honourable Husband introduced me to these Learn English aerobics videos, not only have I been on a mad hunt to find myself a Fraeulein sports bra, I’ve been dying for a dude to tell me, “You look sensational in that dress,” and “I want us to be more than just friends.” At least in those cases, the guy would know exactly what he’s saying as he sings along.

Not like the instructors at my gym, who seem to be completely clueless about what’s actually happening in the songs they play — and even more clueless as to why I act like a pre-pubescent who’s just found her dad’s Playboy in the closet, giggling uncontrollably and unable to make eye contact. Case in point: Tuesday’s spinning class, in which the fireman who leads the class (and whose English is so terrible he can’t even understand me when I speak German) put on a 90s dirty rap mix as we practiced mountain climbing. We kicked off the climb with Juvenile’s “Back that Ass Up,” came out of the saddle (not a metaphor!) to “Whoop There It Is!” and peaked to L’il Kim’s “How Many Licks.”

Now, I like old school dirty rap as much as the next girl (my first CD was by 2 Live Crew, replete with Explicit Lyrics sticker on it). I have even been known to karaoke those songs after a shot or ten of bourbon. But this was all just too much for me to handle. I literally fell off my bike laughing by the time the cunnilingus karaoke came on. Of course, fireman and the rest of the Germs in the class were able to maintain their composure, remaining completely clueless as to what on earth my problem was. And at the end of the class, when the wheels stopped spinning and the disco lights were turned down, the instructor even came over to me and apologized for the difficult ride. Because RIGHT, the workout was too intense — that was why I fell off my bike.

I thought about explaining the real reason. And then I realized I don’t know the German word for cunnilingus so why bother, right? If the song’s got a good hook, do we really need to understand all the words? In the meantime, I’m switching my spinning class to Thursdays. The American instructor for that class only plays instrumentals. No laughing allowed.

Things I Never Thought I’d Say to My Daughter

You know how they say we all turn into our parents eventually? Well, yeah. That’s me right about now. I’m not talking about wearing jeans with an elastic waist band or a crocheted cardigan or getting tri-focals and complaining about that darned small print on everything as I lift my chin toward the ceiling while trying to read from the bottom half of my glasses.

I’m talking about some of the nonsense that’s been coming out of my mouth lately. I swore I would never ever tell my kid stupid myths so I did not even bother with the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus (my parents did try that noise but the Diva figured it out right quick when she discovered her bicycle just *chilling* in my sister’s shower last Christmas). She’s not an idiot and I’m not a liar. So instead of telling her her teeth will rot out of her head if she doesn’t brush, I threaten her with zero more gummi bears if she doesn’t brush.

Actually, I shouldn’t use the word threaten because I don’t do much of that. I’m all about “laying down the law” and using those dreaded mom phrases like “because I said so” and “you’re going to do it and like it” and “someday you’ll thank me for this.” Jesus, instead of a liar, I have become an ueber-annoying mom, one of those smirking, smart-alecky know-it-all Moms whose smugness makes their teenagers just want to punch them.

At the same time, I’m also one of those dreaded European extra-casual parents that non-parents, especially of the Anglo-Saxon variety, seem to hate. You know, the kind who would walk away from her irrational, tantruming child, not bothered at all by the shrieking that everyone else in the store is running away from. Because really, what’s the point of trying to rationalize to a 4-year-old Diva in Training whose breakfast and lunch consisted of pepperoni pizza and ice cream and who’s just spent the last four hours running through a germ-infested ball pit that your decision to not buy the glitter fuschia headband does not equate the end of the world? Ain’t nothing going to calm that over-tired, sugar-crashing little girl down except for me to buy the glitter fuschia headband and that’s the kind of behavior Amis are all about condoning, which is what’s led to the culture of narcissists over there and though my Diva may have good reason to be staring at herself in the mirror, that kid is not going to be an adult brat screaming to get her own way like all those ninnies on reality tv. Instead, she’s going to be the toddler pounding her fists on the floor of the druggery just to piss all you childless folks off so she can learn that she doesn’t always get her own way.

And this, folks, is precisely why I’m at the edge of a nervous breakdown as I write this. Because four-year-olds do not like to not get their own way. And because the way that a four-year-old wants the world to work is absurd to say the least. Seen the Reasons My Son Is Crying Tumblr lately? You know, where the kids pitch fits because of stupid shit like their socks don’t come off quickly enough? Well, Diva’s been pitching a whole lot of fits lately. About having to wear a sweater in near-freezing temperatures. About not being able to wear her ballet shoes to the playground. About the bottle cap not coming off fast enough. She has, also, I confess, picked up on the appropriate use of the word fuck and has told me, when I’ve tried to correct her, that “Oh no” is not a proper substitute because it’s not strong enough to express her very real anger. Fuck.

As much as I wanted to be one of those hippy-dippy parents who let her kid choose what she wanted to do with her life and be accepting of those choices, I find myself really having to work hard to steer this kid toward the direction of oh, say, sanity. I admit: I have let the princess outside in her polyester gown with bustle. I have let her wear a damned crown to kindergarten every single day for a month, provided she share her crown with whomever happened to have a birthday that day. But sometimes, I have to draw the line, and this week, I found myself saying the following without even cringing:

– You can’t go out of the house looking like that. Your belly is showing.

– Please don’t wear your high heels on the sofa.

– That skirt is too short.

– Go wash that make-up off right now, young lady.

She’s not even a teenager yet, and I already sound like I’m ancient. Lord help us all when the day finally arrives that these are legitimate concerns and not just attempts at instilling some decency in the kid. For now, people still think it’s cute that she has plastic high heels with pink bows on them and that she likes to steal my black eye shadow and smear it on her forehead and so my cringe-worthy statements are more like commands given in the hopes that her inner voice develops with a bit of decency in mind. But when she’s a pre-teen and that cuteness threshold has hit its peak and she still feels like heading out the door in a dress a size too small? Eek. Save us all.